From Cow Head to Tilting and Back

Story by Ron Keys// Photos by Ron Keys
July 7 2016

There’s a special kind of relaxation afforded to a rider who visits the Rock

Our ferry, Blue Puttees, gently nudges the Port aux Basques dock as I look across
the distant hills. Grey granite is interspersed with clutches of greenery eking an existence from sketchy soil. This is Newfoundland, this is the Rock.
Disembarking, we touch the land where the first Europeans set foot in the
New World and head for the Hotel Port aux Basques. I wrestle with the chilly wind to cover the bike, but a pot of moose stew assuages my hunger before my wife, Tina, and I hit the hay.

bike with cartWith June-uary and July-uary behind, the August sun warms us as we wind uphill and survey this moonscape called the barrens. The mountains are covered with mosses and lichens, and everywhere lakes and ponds dot our view. Newfoundland back roads are bumpy, and finding the smooth line between the cracks, crevices and potholes along Route 470 is a challenge, but the raw beauty of our surroundings is compensation enough. Nature has no straight lines and neither does the roadway, which leaves little time for gawking.

Have Mercy

ocean side In the distance, the ever-present surf beats mercilessly against the rocks as Fox Roost-Margaree flashes by, then Isle aux Mort (Island of the Dead), named in memory of those lost to the angry seas.

Passing Barachois Falls, which plummets 50 metres into a rocky chasm, we soon arrive at Rose Blanche – and the end of the road. A narrow, paved strip serpentines over, around and between huge boulders and stops at a gravel parking lot.
We hike along a mountain pathway beside the crashing surf and round a bend. Silhouetted against the steely blue sky, high atop a precipitous cliff, stands Rose Blanche Lighthouse. Formerly in ruins, the citizens of Rose Blanche recently rebuilt the lighthouse, resurrecting it to its former glory. Designed by relatives of notable author Robert Louis Stevenson, the lighthouse stands as a memorial to the past.
Retracing our route to Port aux Basques, our northern passage on the Trans-Canada Highway parallels the immense Long Range Mountains, the genesis of the Appalachians. At Codroy Valley, the scene changes to farm fields, crops and livestock. Signage warns of moose, and for several kilometres, moose fencing holds back the ever-
present danger.

Lady Luck

rock side oceanAs we’re cruising along on Route 450, unbeknownst to me, the speed limit changes to 50 km/h. With lights flashing, the prettiest RCMP officer I have ever seen smiles beautifully and informs me in her lilting Newfie accent that I was speeding. Digging deep, I summon all of my Ontario charm and she sends us on our way, wishing us well.

Following the shoreline, the Bay of Islands swanks her beauty, and in the distance, another waterfall plunges gracefully. Almost 250 years ago, Captain James Cook mapped Newfoundland’s coast, and his maps were so accurate, they were used for more than 100 years.
Lark Harbour marks the end of the road, so we return to Corner Brook and check in at the historic Tudor-inspired Glynmill Inn, high above the Humber River.
Later, as Tina and I amble through town, folks greet us and even motorists stop their cars in anticipation of us crossing the street. This is a utopia of social graces and good manners. After a dinner at the Crown and Moose, we unwind from our ride chock full of unique sites.

The Captain

CapitanRain threatens on our morning ride up Marble Mountain, where a statue of Captain Cook stands above Corner Brook. Although difficult to find, it’s worth the effort to visit this memorial and tribute to a remarkable pioneer.

Route 430, the Viking Trail, takes us to Wiltondale, where Route 431 sweeps us along Bonne Bay Pond into the mountains. At Lomond Lodge, Gros Morne National Park greets us, and even with the trailer behind, the torque of the Wing’s flat six simply flattens these hills. Around every corner lurks the possibility of a great, horned, four-legged pedestrian, so I keep my speed down. Even though it’s August, the deep ravines on the mountain slopes have snow that will stay year-round. A highway worker tells us that the snow up there is six metres deep.

Suddenly, a sharp bump at the bridge takes my breath away and about an inch of my stature, I’m sure! My fault: should have obeyed the signage. A few great curves later and Woody Point appears across Bonne Bay. With its main street lined with brightly painted shops and restaurants, we find Aunt Jane’s B&B, a lovely spot with a great view.

With time to spare, we head for Trout River. Curving along through the valley, the scene reminds me of the Mojave. Red rubble is strewn about below the steep slopes of the Tablelands, and high above, human’s can actually walk on the Earth’s mantle, the solid rock beneath the planet’s outer crust that was heaved upward by a catastrophic event. Guided tours along the roadside offer to take you through this unique area. At Trout River, we turn around and head back to Woody Point for a nice dinner overlooking Bonne Bay.

The North Trail

The next morning, I see the telltale droplets plopping on the puddles outside our window, but as I load up, the rain stops. How fortunate! Today the Tablelands are hidden in clouds as we meander back to Wiltondale. The Viking Trail takes us north through a panorama of sea and mountains as we glide along beside the East Arm of Bonne Bay. Just past Sally’s Cove, we park the bike. It’s a 3 km hike across bogs and boardwalks to one of the most awesome places on Earth: Western Brook Pond, a freshwater fjord nestled between the mountains.

Surrounded by 600-metre-high stone cliffs, the lake is as deep as the walls are high. Waterfalls abound around every turn, with 350-metre Pissing Mare Falls being the highest. Back on the road again, we follow the shoreline north. Tuckamore trees, with their windswept branches leaning away from the shore, afford us little protection. The prevailing westerlies sweeping over the oceanside cliffs buffet me like an invisible hand slapping the bike, trying to change its trajectory. The air is seldom still in Newfoundland. Quietly, the Wing purrs into Cow Head and the Shallow Bay Motel. After dinner, Tina and I watch a live play at the Warehouse Theatre. With Cruel Times in Between tells us the sad story of Newfoundland’s Resettlement Program.

It was an utter failure that uprooted hundreds of families from remote coastal fishing villages in a government cost-cutting venture to relocate people to the cities. Changing Tides The following morning, with the tide slowly covering the rocks in Shallow Bay, we backtrack southward to Lobster Cove Lighthouse, where we catch a great view of the sea and Rocky Harbour. At Wiltondale, we trade Gros Morne for the high-speed, four-lane TCH and head east. Passing by Grand Falls-Windsor, kilometre after kilometre of spectacular scenery rolls by.

Life slows down again at exit 23 as we wind along Route 340 through Burnt Bay, Loon Bay and Boyd’s Cove, and cross the causeway on “Road to the Isles” on our way to Twillingate. Dildo Run Provincial Park evokes a smile and a chuckle as we whiz by. In mid-August Iceberg Alley has no bergs, so we opt for an evening of hilarious entertainment and storytelling at the Anchor Inn, featuring the Kitchen Party from Beyond the Overpass Theatre Company. The music begins, and out comes the “Ugly Stick,” a peculiar music-making device made from a stick with a rubber boot on one end and a mop for hair on the other, and with bottle caps attached with nails to make extra noise. In Newfoundland, anything can be a musical instrument.


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